Not Our Finest Hour
Good-Bye to All That
The last week cannot have been the sort of John Wayne moment for which the administration was hoping. I’ve chosen my words carefully here because it doesn’t look like there was any planning at all. Having abandoned Bigram Air Base overnight the weekend of 4 July, like some geopolitical walk of shame, our military gave up any hope of rear-guard security. We have been left coordinating with the enemy driving us out the country – who’s only hope for utility is American humiliation - to coordinate an evacuation. The US military is left in control of the Hamid Karzi International Airport in Kabul – trapped there - but in control. Outside the dusty, razor wired walls of the complex, it is the Taliban’s game.
Perhaps I’m overstating things here – I have great respect for our military. I suspect that the issue is that they’ve been ordered to act as if they were trapped as much smaller British and French contingents make “gun raids” from the airports into the town to escort their nationals and Afghan allies to the airport. It may have been a John Bull moment, with a British carrier group steaming east of Suez for the first time since the Empire folded, I can’t tell what the devil is going on. Whomever in Washington planned this train-wreck doesn’t seem to know either.
It was in a grim sign of the times that a G7 zoom meeting was held to discuss the Whiskey Tango Foxtrot that is Afghanistan. Boris Johnson – UK Prime Minister and worst haircut in Europe – tried in vain to get Joe Biden off the self-imposed 31 August deadline for complete withdrawal. Biden, stuck to his guns, if for no other reason than that the deadline is no longer self-imposed. The Taliban have publicly announced that any US extension is a “red line.” We have to go.
I wrote extensively in Pothole of the Gods about the fundamentally stabilizing quality of regime change. That’s it’s sheer novelty, lack of precedent, and even new hope of positive change leads to more turn over, not less. And the Taliban was not a positive change. Whether we like it or not, the Taliban fait accompli has happened, we are leaving, none of which means that the fighting there is over. The Islamic State – IS – looking for new territory, and right now, Afghanistan is still, despite what the Taliban say, up for grabs.
It looks like it was IS that launched the attacks on the airport, perhaps to get the US to return long enough to overthrow the Taliban yet again so that they can slip into the vacuum. Biden has promised to stick to the timeline as well as hunt down those behind the attack – it’s hard to see how, though. Once we’d abandoned Bigram Air Base – hopes for a peaceful draw down weren’t dashed – but complete control was in the hands of people who need the current chaos to fend off IS propaganda that they are American stooges. What this pivot of attention tells us is that America is no longer the threat to the Taliban – we’re just the trophy - ISIS is what keeps them up at night.
In a few weeks, the Taliban will start sniffing about a refugees-for-recognition to get Western help in defeating the IS in their own civil war. We should be wary.
Uncle Joe, this is not our finest hour. It's not our last either.